6th to 13th May 1999
A group of four birders, Guy Bottomley, Roy Bottomley, Paul Robinson and myself, visited Lesbos in early May 1999 for a week of fairly intensive birding. We had birded together in Andalucia in 1994 as well as in the UK, but Lesbos was a new experience for most of us. Roy had visited Lesbos previously, but in September as a family holiday. He therefore had some experience with the species we would encounter. Guy also had relevant previous experience from a birding trip to Turkey.
Most of the planning was undertaken by Guy, drawing on information from Richard Brooks' book "Birding in Lesbos" (Brookside Publishing 1995), and from information gleaned from a series of trip reports by other birders, to whom we are grateful. The purpose of this report is to pass on information and advice to other birders who may be undertaking a similar trip.
We flew from Manchester via Flying Colours on the early morning of 6th May, having been delayed for a little under an hour. Flight time was 4 hours and 12 minutes, diverting slightly from the normal route in order to avoid the Balkan conflict.
We'd arranged to pick up the car at the airport. This presented no great problems, and enabled us to start birding directly. We did have some delays in trying to find our way through Mytilini, where the roads were being repaired, and diversions were in place, only some of which were marked.
Our car was a Suzuki Swift. Our only real criteria, apart from price, was that a four-door model was a must to enable us to bale out quickly at sightings. The small size of the car proved to be no real handicap since we were never in the car for long periods. We were continually stopping, and Lesbos offers no long distance driving anyway.
Our self-catering apartments were in Anaxos, near Petra. Though Kalloni is often recommended as the ideal base, and it probably is, Anaxos was quiet, had calling Scops Owl, and was only a twenty-minute drive from Kalloni. It also gave good access to the north, particularly Ruppell's Hill, and the west, where most of our driving was done. Restaurant and bar facilities were also good in Anaxos, with a wide choice. There was a small bakery next door to our apartments, which provided bread for lunches, which we prepared as we went.
The "Marianthe" apartments were adequate, but not luxurious. We had two of the three apartments, and found the keys in the door when we arrived. Toilet and shower were available in each apartment, along with one single and one double bed. Cooking facilities was a two ring electric hotplate. The apartments overlooked the village, and gave distant views of the sea.
6th May 1999
The weather when we landed was not what we'd hoped, and certainly not what I'd prepared for. It was dull, with a stiff breeze from the Northeast, making the day unpleasantly cold.
On leaving the airport, it was our intention to try and see Kruper's Nuthatch before heading for Anaxos. Our information suggested that this was the only species that required us to visit the Southeast of the island, and we wanted to see this bird and then be able to concentrate on other areas.
(With hindsight, such determination was unnecessary. The distances on Lesbos are small, and the driving is easy - we could have visited this area at any time, and indeed we did return later in the week for another look!).
From Mytilini, our route took us on the Kalloni road as far as the Agiassos junction, and from there, south west towards Vassilika. Our first stop was at the point where the Agiassos road bridges the Evergeloulas River (See sketch map 1). The river carried a low flow of water on this date. We were attracted by large flocks of hirundines and swifts, and whilst these were seen regularly all over the island, this was our only report of Pallid Swift which another observer claimed for this site just before we arrived. We found our first Olivaceous Warblers breeding along the track on the north side of the river, and heard Cetti's and Nightingales. This site also produced one of our few sightings of White Wagtail.
1. Breeding Olivaceous Warbler
2. Cetti's Warbler & Nightingale
3. Blue Tit, House Sparrow, Greenfinch.
Also at this site:
Sand martin, House Sparrow, Swallow, Swift, White Wagtail, Hooded Crow, Herring Gull.
We then stopped at various points as we drove Southwest, until turning north towards Achladeri, adding a few species as we went. This road seems to have been recently re-made, and finding landmarks such as culverts from earlier reports proved difficult. Our destination was the "White Barn" site (See sketch 2). This well known site is easily found off the right hand side of the Kalloni road as you drive from Achladeri. The "Barn" is not really a barn off course, but part of some facilities provided at a popular local picnic site. It is however very obviously white, and is easily seen from the road.
White "Barn" Site
1. Breeding Kruper's Nuthatch
2. Finches coming to drink from stream; Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Serin, Linet.
3. Pair of Masked Shrikes.
Also hirundines, (incl Red-rumped Swallow) Black-eared Wheatear, Woodchat Shrike, Corn Bunting, Middle-spotted Woodpecker, Short-toed Eagle.
We pulled into this site, and were immediately hailed by another birder who was watching two Kruper's Nuthatches carrying food to a nest hole in a double trunked tree some 50 yards up the main track from the barn, on the left hand (north) of the track.
On leaving the "White Barn" we headed off for Anaxos to find our rooms. We got our first site of the pools and salt pans east of Kalloni, but allowed ourselves only a brief look before carrying on. These pools and pans became a magnet for us, and we returned to these at some stage during most days of our trip.
The day began sunny, but breezy. Our first area for the day was the Petra - Molivos road, which was largely in the lee of the hills to the east and thus protected from the worst of the wind. As we moved on from Molivos to Skala Sikamias, we became more exposed to the wind, and the day turned quite chilly. From Sikamia back to Molivos entailed driving trough fairly high ground, and we were pretty cold. We finished the day with a visit to Kalloni salt pans, wishing we'd bought heavier clothing with us.
Petra - Molivos road
It's a short drive from Petra to Molivos, but the area offers plenty of birding opportunities. Our main target for the day was Ruppell's Warbler, and the areas between this road and the sea were recommended as good sites. We made three stops along this road.
Petra - Molivos Road
1. Ruppell's & Sub-Alpine Warblers, Pied & Black-eared Wheatear, Redback & Woodchat Shrike, Black-headed & Corn Bunting, Jay, Crested Lark & Crag Martin.
2. Ruppell's, Sardinian & Orphean Warblers, Spotted Flycatcher & Hirundines, Masked Shrike and Turtle Dove.
3. Masked Shrike, Golden Oriole, Alpine Swift, Little Owl, Black-eared Wheatear.
The lay-by on the seaward side of the road was the most rewarding stop. Drive up the hill, north out of Petra, until you've passed the jetty on the left, and look out for a peculiar structure built onto the hillside on the right hand side of the road. This building is quite distinctive, being supported by girder work. When the road starts to sweep right again, there is a lay-by capable of allowing a few cars to get off the road completely. A walk from here down through the scrub gave us good views of Ruppell's Warblers, with plenty of added interest from shrikes, buntings and other warblers. We set up scopes on the derelict terraced fields just north of the lay-by, but had to retreat almost immediately as we had inadvertently set up within feet of a tangle of scrub where a pair of Ruppell's were trying to bring food to young
Continuing north, the sweeps around a small valley, which runs to the sea. A track leads inland from the right hand side of the road. Here we saw more Ruppell's as well as Orphean Warblers.
Note that we never saw an Orphean Warbler with the classic white eye once. All our birds were dark eyed. The "Handbook of the Birds of Europe the Middle East and North Africa" - Cramp et al, quotes a number of references which suggest that eastern Orpheans are more frequently dark eyed than western birds.
Our third stop shouldn't really be recommended. Within site of Molivos was another track leading away from the right hand side of the road. The track was half-heartedly blocked by a rickety gate. Tempted by a tantalising glimpse of a falcon sp. over the ridge, we walked this track for some distance. We never did identify the falcon, but we did add our only sighting of the trip of Golden Orioles.
Molivos - Skala Sikamias
The day was now dull, and with a blustery and cold wind, we didn't do any real seawatching here other than note a few shags flying east.
Skala Sikamias - Molivos
This was our first attempt at raptors, but again the cold and wind beat us. One common buzzard was our only reward in the mountains.
On the outskirts of Molivos the road passes over a small stream (See sketch map 4). A walk along the track on the north of this stream gave our only sightings of Willow Warbler and Blackcap, and our second White Wagtail.
Molivos Stream Track
1. Finches, Warblers & Shrikes in streamside trees and Bushes.
Park where the road widens to the east of the bridge.
Kalloni East River
A short stop here produced four Wood Sandpipers, and more Olivaceous Warblers. We were keen to press on to the complex of salt pans and pools east of Kalloni however.
Kalloni Salt Pan Complex
Richard Brooks' book describes this area in some detail. It is a huge area, full of interest. The salt pans are a commercial operation, and presumably will hold water in rotation throughout the year. The associated pools however dried up noticeably during the week we visited, and are probably sites which are best early in the year. Viewing of the area is made fairly simple from the road along the west side of the pans, but it's not possible to see the centre pans very well, and there's no-where from which to gain height to see the near-side of the embankments. As well as the birds I've listed, we heard reports of other species being found - notably Greater Sandplover, Spur-winged Plover and Red-necked Phalarope.